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December 6, 2011  |  Second Reading

Planning and Environment Amendment (Schools) Bill 2011

I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Schools) Bill 2011. The bill which is before the house looks to pick up on matters of the subdivision of land for the purpose of establishing or acquiring a site for a school or carrying out building works relating to a school, including ancillary purposes which will not be actions that give rise to the liability to pay a growth areas infrastructure contribution (GAIC). We note that the GAIC scheme imposes a requirement for persons subdividing, purchasing or undertaking building works on land in Melbourne’s growth areas to contribute to the provision of essential infrastructure in those areas.

While I represent an electorate that many would consider to be in inner Melbourne, the seat of Ivanhoe, and it is not an area that is covered by the growth areas infrastructure contribution scheme, it is an area that is affected by a lack of investment in such growth areas. Ivanhoe is in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, some 8 kilometres from the central business district and the GPO. It is an area where we feel the effects of a lack of infrastructure investment in the outer northern suburbs, for example, or where there has been significant growth as Victorians have looked for more affordable housing opportunities.

While that is welcome, there also needs to be an equivalent increase in investment in services in those areas. That is part of the reason why a growth areas infrastructure contribution scheme was introduced.

It was to ensure that people who were looking to find affordable housing in the outer suburbs would also be able to have the benefits of public infrastructure in those places. We note that GAIC did not apply to government schools, for example, and that this bill aims to ensure that non-government schools are exempt from having to make a GAIC contribution.

I will give a couple of examples of how infrastructure investment in the growing outer northern suburbs has an effect on the livability of the communities that I represent in the electorate of Ivanhoe. One example is in the area of hospital infrastructure and health services, in particular the Austin Hospital, which has greater demands in its emergency department now than ever before. The number of patients that the emergency department sees has almost doubled. Many of those people are coming from the outer northern suburbs, which are covered by the growth areas infrastructure contribution scheme.

These people are coming to the Austin not only because it is a great public hospital but also because there has been limited continued investment by the current government in the Northern Hospital at Epping. Projects there have not been continued, which means people in those outer growth areas have to come in to Austin Health for their health services. They are entitled to use those services, but the problem that comes from not investing in services in areas where people live is that they are then drawn to other communities, which puts greater pressure on livability and access to services for communities such as mine in Ivanhoe.

Another example is problems caused by a lack of infrastructure investment in public transport. It is great that there are affordable housing opportunities for people in places like Mernda and Doreen. When I used to live in Epping and around Greenbrook, you could drive at 100 kilometres per hour along McDonald’s Road because it was essentially an open highway.

These days it is wall to wall, and you are down to 60 or 70 kilometres per hour. It is shopping centres and housing all the way through to Whittlesea and beyond. That is great for people, but unless we are making a contribution to public infrastructure, assets and services, then we are not providing people with the opportunity to have a livable community. They are then drawn to other suburbs, such as those I represent in the electorate of Ivanhoe, and that puts greater pressure on the services that are there to provide for people in these communities.

Public transport is an example of why a GAIC fee is important and needs to be made available to provide these services. We now have hundreds of thousands of people living in these outer northern suburbs who, because of a lack of public transport infrastructure, are driving their cars through the Ivanhoe electorate, and along Rosanna Road, and putting greater pressure and stress on the capacity for people to move around in my electorate.

These days it is difficult to get from Heidelberg to Ivanhoe in peak time. If you want to get from Rosanna Road to Upper Heidelberg Road to pick the kids up from school and take them home, it can be diabolical. It can be 30 to 40 minutes just to cross some key arterial roads because of the pressure of the desire of people in these growth suburbs to get across town, to get to work themselves and to meet their obligations and commitments. In many cases they do not have a public transport options to do that.

That is why having a growth areas infrastructure contribution scheme is critical if it is being used to provide an investment in services in those communities. Those people are paying taxes, so they are entitled not only to the affordable housing they have chosen to pursue but also to the services that go with it. They rely on governments and the taxes they pay to contribute to that. There are also those who land bank and sit on opportunities to make some money down the track.

That is all well and good, but in doing so these people should also ensure that the legacy they leave is a greater contribution to services in those communities in the long term; otherwise we are just going to continue to throw the pressure and burden back on a number of inner city suburbs to try to meet that need, a need that creates livability pressures for people in my electorate of Ivanhoe. We have seen that through a lack of transport infrastructure that sees more and more cars being driven from the outer growth areas. People who live in areas like Doreen and Mernda, for example, are driving their cars through places like Rosanna, Heidelberg and Ivanhoe, and that disrupts livability in those areas. That is a critical point.

It is important that non-government schools are provided with opportunities. I use that term broadly; it includes Catholic as well as independent schools. I support the idea that these schools should not have to provide a GAIC contribution. I was at St John’s Primary School in Heidelberg last week with Archbishop Denis Hart and the CEO of Catholic Education, Stephen Elder, a former member in this place. They are people I worked with closely in my former role with the Minister for Education in the previous government, Bronwyn Pike. We did a lot of work with Catholic Education, and it was good to be with them and Jenny Macklin, the federal member for Jagajaga, to open the redevelopment facilities of St John’s Primary School.

The point that the representatives from Catholic Education were making to the parents and students who were at the school assembly was about the great sacrifices that parents who choose to send their children to independent or Catholic schools make every day, the pressure that they are under to meet their commitments and the desires and aspirations they have for their children. It is only reasonable that Catholic schools should have the opportunity, like government schools, to not have to pay the growth areas infrastructure contribution scheme, which is a tax. The effect of that tax flows on to parents, who are already making significant contributions to their children’s education. That is the only way those costs can be borne by organisations like Catholic Education. Those points were succinctly made by Stephen Elder. I think the parents really warmed to the acknowledgement of their contribution and the sacrifices they make on behalf of their families.

I certainly commend the fact that this amendment will pick up on an anomaly and an inconsistency to ensure that when we are planning in the future and we want to provide incentives for Catholic education organisations and Independent Schools Victoria — Michelle Green being the chief executive there — to continue to invest in education in growth areas just as much as we in the Labor Party lobby and encourage the government to invest in public education in those areas that are so important to people who are seeking to start their lives in places affordable to them and in which they can raise a family and pursue their dreams, that services are made available to them. We need to make sure that happens, because if it does not, the people of the Ivanhoe electorate, for example, will wear the costs through more traffic, more congestion on the transport system and more demand on the public health system because of appropriate services not having been provided in the greater growth areas.